Verdi's 'Luisa Miller'

From the Bavarian State Opera

WHO'S WHO?

  • Krassimira Stoyanova .... Luisa
  • Ramon Vargas ............ Rodolfo
  • Paolo Gavanelli .............. Miller
  • Carlo Colombara ........ Walter
  • Elena Maximova ......Federica
  • Georg Zeppenfeld ........ Wurm
  • Bavarian State Opera Orchestra and Chorus
  • Massimo Zanetti, conductor
Krassimira Stoyanova and Ramon Vargas

Krassimira Stoyanova and Ramon Vargas star as the troubled lovers Luisa and Rodolfo, in Verdi's Luisa Miller at the Bavarian State Opera. Wilfried Hoesl/Bavarian State Opera hide caption

itoggle caption Wilfried Hoesl/Bavarian State Opera

If there were a Top Ten List of great playwrights whose work has also inspired operas you might think Shakespeare would be number one. After all, his plays have been turned into hundreds of operas. But Shakespeare has proven troublesome for composers, and only a handful of those operas have been truly successful.

Instead, one dramatist who might appear at the top of that list would be the 18th-century German writer Friederich Schiller. He had little interest in music and his plays aren't as familiar as Shakespeare's, but they did inspire a remarkable number of truly fine musical dramas, including operas about Joan of Arc by both Verdi and Tchaikovsky, Rossini's William Tell, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, Puccini's Turandot — and Verdi's Luisa Miller. Verdi based Luisa on a Schiller play with a title that not only describes that opera, but also countless others. It's called Kabale und Liebe — or Intrigue and Love.

Verdi wrote Luisa Miller in 1849, and it's not his most famous Schiller-based opera. That distinction would go to his sprawling drama Don Carlos. But of the two, Luisa Miller is surely the more straightforward and accessible, with its troubled love story plagued by corrupt politics, class conflicts and bitter family squabbles.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents this early gem by Verdi in a production from the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, featuring soprano Krassimira Stoyanova and tenor Ramon Vargas.

The Story of 'Luisa Miller'

Carlo Colombara (top) and Ramon Vargas

Count Walter (Carlo Colombara) attacks his own son, Rodolfo (Ramon Vargas), who threatens to reveal his father's role in a murder. Wilfried Hoesl/Bavarian State Opera hide caption

itoggle caption Wilfried Hoesl/Bavarian State Opera

ACT ONE ("Love"):

Luisa, the title character, is in love with a young man she knows as Carlo. His real name is Rodolfo, and he's the son of the local count, Walter. Luisa's father, Miller, is a retired soldier, and he's mistrustful of his daughter's new boyfriend; Miller suspects the young man is lying about his identity.

There's also another man with his eye on Luisa. He's called Wurm, and he's an employee of Count Walter. Both "Carlo" and Wurm would like to marry Luisa, and Miller at first thinks his daughter should have the privilege of choosing her own husband. But when Wurm tells Miller that Carlo is not who he says he is, Miller's suspicions are confirmed and he's furious.

In the next scene we meet the Count himself. Again Wurm — whose name aptly translates as "worm" — is up to no good. He tells Walter that Rodolfo has been romancing Luisa, thinking that the Count will have misgivings about his son getting involved with a simple villager. Wurm is right. When Rodolfo appears, his father orders him to marry a recently widowed duchess named Federica. The duchess promptly arrives and declares her love for Rodolfo, but he confesses that he's in love with someone else.

At Miller's house, Luisa is waiting anxiously for the man she still knows as Carlo. Her father tells her who this Carlo really is, and that he's already engaged to Federica. When Rodolfo arrives he reaffirms his love for Luisa and says he has a way out of his arranged marriage to the Duchess. When Walter shows up and orders the arrest of both Miller and Luisa, Rodolfo threatens to reveal a terrible secret from Walter's past — that he gained his title by murdering his predecessor. Hearing this, Walter backs off and orders Luisa and Miller to be released.

ACT TWO ("The Intrigue"): Luisa learns that her father has been jailed after all, for insulting the Count. Wurm tells her there is only one way she can save her father. He'll be released if she agrees to write a letter, saying she had only wanted Rodolfo for his wealth and power — and that she's now pledging herself to Wurm. Luisa must also swear openly that the letter is hers, and that her love for Wurm is genuine.

In the next scene, Wurm tells Count Walter that Luisa has gone along with his scheme. As they talk, we learn that Wurm was also involved in the murder of the former Count. Walter vows that he'll either protect Wurm or share his fate if they're discovered.

When the Duchess Federica appears, she's told that Rodolfo is now ready to marry her. Luisa is brought in to make her forced renunciation of Rodolfo, and declare her supposed love for Wurm.

In the act's final scene, Rodolfo has been given Luisa's letter. When Wurm appears Rodolfo challenges him to a duel, but Wurm runs off. Rodolfo then tells Walter about Luisa's apparent betrayal, and agrees to marry Federica.

ACT THREE ("Poison"): After his release from prison, Miller comes home to find Luisa distraught. She's writing a letter to Rodolfo — a suicide pact. Miller now knows what she did to save him, and tries to comfort her. In a long duet the two are reconciled and agree to leave the village together.

Left alone, Luisa begins pray. Rodolfo enters and secretly pours a vial of poison into a decanter on the table. He confronts Luisa with the letter she wrote denouncing him. When she cannot deny that it's hers, Rodolfo asks her to pour him a drink — and when he says it tastes bitter, she swallows some too. Rodolfo tells Luisa the cup was poisoned, and she finally tells him the truth about her deal with Wurm. Miller returns to find his daughter dying. Others rush to the scene, including Wurm. With one last effort Rodolfo kills Wurm, and then collapses, dead, beside Luisa's body.

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